How much water could I use in a day? One bucket for bathing, or maybe two. One for washing dishes. One for cooking. Three if I wanted to wash my clothes. And at least one for drinking. Seven trips, maybe eight. That was doable, I thought. I could carry that much water just from the borehole around the corner and down the path to my bungalow.

Bore Hole

I arrived at the borehole still early in the day. The wives and small children of the other teachers at my school had already formed a line and they were terribly amused when I joined them. One of my neighbor’s daughters bounced up and down in her flip flops as she worked the pump handle, the rhythm sending a steady stream of clear water singing into a bucket.

They watched tactfully as I tried to imitate them, twisting a round piece of cloth into a donut shape and setting it on my head for a cushion. Then my neighbor helped lift my filled bucket over my head. I grabbed the bucket on both sides, wobbled for just a moment, and was on my way back to my bungalow.

I could do this. I could really do this, carry an entire bucket full of water on my head–oops–almost full anyway. A little water splashed over the side and dripped down my face and off my chin. I adjusted my posture, found my gait.

“Good morning!” It was my landlady. I had to stop and greet her. I stopped, but the water in the bucket kept moving. Another splash rolled down my shoulders. The landlady chatted for a few minutes, careful not to draw attention to the bucket of water, her face full of barely concealed amusement.

“See you later.” The obligatory greeting finished, I swayed, turned and started forward again, feeling several drops of water on the backs of my knees. An ache was spreading between my shoulder blades. All the way to my bungalow little bits of water splashed out every few seconds leaving dark spots in the sand.

Inside my front door I uncovered my water barrel and dumped in the fresh water. It went in with a whoosh and the water level in the barrel rose just an inch or two. I dipped a plastic cup in and drank it immediately, unfiltered. If I was going to carry water all morning, it was going to make me awfully thirsty.

In the end I could only manage four trips to and from the borehole. I listened to the steady deep-throated singing of the pump as water poured into the deep, metal basins, and felt the steam rising from the sandy path as a portion of my load splashed out on the way home. My clothes washing, I decided, could wait until another day. The sun rose quickly and it was too hot to continue.

The next time I filled a bucket for washing I thought for a minute and poured a little back into the barrel. I didn’t really need that last refreshing dipperful. I could never take water for granted again.


I was amazed at the amount of water an African girl could could carry on her head. They started training their necks as small children, carrying just a bottle at first, then a small bucket, a bigger bucket, then increasingly larger basins. My neighbor’s daughters collected all the water for the family every morning, enough for a family of six to cook, wash, bathe, clean, and drink. Before any of the other work of the day could be begun, a lot of time had to be devoted to water.

I was not as amazing as they were. I carried my own water only during school breaks. The rest of the year I hired my students who could bring me enough in a few trips to last a week.

Back in the States we had too much water. In the fall the basement flooded and in the winter we had to leave our faucets dripping to keep the pipes from freezing. Still, I got anxious when someone tried to run the dishwasher twice in one day. Imagine how many buckets that would take.